Legal hope for detained juvenile murderers
Hope dawned yesterday for 24 prisoners detained indefinitely for murders committed while they were minors, with the passage of a law enabling their sentences to be determined in court.
The prisoners, detained before the handover at 'her majesty's pleasure', are now held 'at the discretion of the chief executive'.
Under the Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill 2004, passed by the Legislative Council yesterday, the Secretary for Justice is required to apply to the Court of First Instance for a determination of the minimum term.
The application must be made within six months of the amendment taking effect next Friday.
For the prisoners, detained at executive discretion or serving mandatory life sentences for murders committed under the age of 18, the court would have the discretion to impose a minimum term or to quash the original sentence and set a new, fixed term.
Appeals against the sentences may be made to the Court of Appeal and the Court of Final Appeal.
Legislator Leung Yiu-chung, who had been campaigning for the prisoners since 1997, said he felt a 'sense of relief' that the 'inhuman law' had finally been amended.
Mr Leung said most of the prisoners, with whom he had kept in regular contact, supported the changes, though uncertainties remained.
He said many of the prisoners had been in jail for more than 15 years, some of them for longer than they usually would be under a court-imposed sentence.
In one case, he said, a prisoner was given a minimum sentence of 15 years and was still in jail more than a year after that time had passed.
He said the male inmate was in Shek Pik Prison, a maximum-security institution on Lantau Island.
Convicted murderers are usually released after serving between 15 and 20 years, depending on their behaviour in jail.